What does Head Nodding mean?

by Christine Kosicki

Yippy, look who's coming!

Yippy, look who's coming!

What is a horse telling me when he nods his head up and down when he sees me?


We would need to take into account the specifics of what’s going on in the environment (and the meaning of your visit) when the horse nods his head to be accurate of its meaning. For every body language of the horse there are always more than one meaning that’s why we need to know exactly the circumstances that surround the action.

If your horse is looking at you like in the above picture while noticing you coming and then starts to nod, he’s likely just showing how pleased he is about your visit! How wonderful! A learned response on their part since often when we first approach our horses it’s with a kind word, stroke on the neck and if a goody is involved then whoolah, a learned (and possibly anxious) response would be created because of your gesture.

Does the nodding stop once you are closer to the horse? And/or after his presents is acknowledged? Are there other horses in the vicinity? Does it feel like he is anxious to get something from you like food? Is the nodding done slowly or is it quick and thrustful? Does the head move in a circular motion or just up and down? Every small movement can add to the meaning.

Providing it feels to you like something comforting rather than surprising, it sounds to me that your horse is simply glad and anxious about seeing you! You must be nice to hang out with! :0)


Comments for What does Head Nodding mean?

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Aug 17, 2010
Horse Nodding
by: Anonymous

Thank you so much for featuring my question on your web page. The horses in question are a mare and a foal and I speak to them gently and always have carrots!!! Needless to say a pat on the neck goes without saying. I don't own my two horsey friends but their owner uses a paddock I have for grazing and I so love the fact that they are happy to see me and they always sooth my anxious mind when necessary and make the world a better place.

I love the concept of taining horses naturally and wish you well. All animals are a gift and horses have a unique and spiritural presence. It is truly a pleasure to be in their company and I only wish that cruelty and mismanagement of horses and all animals could be tacked world wide, but sadly no doubt that will not be the case. And for those among us who do not rate animals little do they know how much they are missing, it is their loss.

Continued success and I will continue to enjoy your website and the horses I am provileged to meet.

Best regards.

Christine Kosicki
Billeragh East, Araglen, Kilworth, Co Cork. Ireland

Oct 01, 2010
head nodding
by: Anonymous

we have 4 horses that have been together for over 10 years. One nods his head--sometimes non stop for many minutes for no apparent reason. Perhaps he's eating or just standing soaking up the sun. He has the same quiet, consistent environment as the others. He's not a particularly anxious horse and this has been going on for a number of years. He does not nod or head shake when being ridden--easy trail rides only. Any ideas?

Oct 02, 2010
Head Nodding
by: Elaine Polny

The part about nodding for several minutes has me a bit concerned. That seems extreme. But I don't have enough information surrounding exactly when he does this and how often to make an informed decision. If it happens most when he eats, then I would consider having his teeth checked. Rather than estimating the time, I would count the number of nods and make a mental note of that.
If he is is great health, then it could be just a learned behavior and if it is done around feeding the horses it would be a signal for them to back off his dinner plate!

Jun 08, 2013
Other meanings?
by: nickie

ok so this is when I am visiting the horse. I was petting him and loving him up when he started to nod his head like a furious up and down and he layed his ears back against his head like what they do when they are mad and want to buck. The movement did not end untill I backed away from him. What was that about? Did I take the right staps moving away from the horse or could I have stayed and not been in any danger?

Sep 04, 2014
nodding head
by: Anonymous

Comment read somewhere that a horse that nods his head is acknowledging your presence in a submissive fashion. Often times a horse will nod its head after he has been bad and he knows It. It's kind of like an apology or the horse is acknowledging his previous bad behavior and is asking to be forgiven. I also read that this is a behavior that foals exhibit when approaching an adult horse to display their understanding of their own lower rank in the herd. In other words "hi, please don't hurt me". I have seen this in my own horses. I don't know if its accurate or not. maybe others can Comment

Sep 05, 2014
Submissive head nodding
by: Elaine Polny

I wouldn’t go so far as to say any horse consciously has the awareness to acknowledge they have been “bad” or would make an “apology” toward a human or ask for “forgiveness”. Those are all human references of reasoning and understanding.
However, the submissive part could play a role at times especially with really young horses yet I also have seen way more mouth clapping from a youngster to an elder that does indicate, hey I’m being submissive toward you. I have not experienced a horse doing this toward a human suggesting the same reason of submission though. (but anything is possible in the horse world! :0)

Oct 01, 2014
A technique of calming down (Assumption)
by: Anonymous

This is just an assumption.

I believe it's a technique of calming themselves down. Inside its mind or body, physiological build up with excitement. So, a horse has two choices, either stay still with filled excitement or move about to reduce its excitement. Hence why a horse nod, jump, and run. Same goes with human, if you sit still with excitement, You can't remain stillness and you have to move your body or head back and forth. Maybe that's a classic sign for Asperger.

Jan 13, 2015
head nodding
by: ELaine

I have had my horse for three years just recently he has started to nod his head up and down vigorously with his ears flat back when I am feeding him, then going in his stable whilst he's eating he waves it up and down as he turns his head to see where I am, I think he is saying "please leave me alone to eat my tea in piece". I think this because once hes finished and then goes to his hay net with a comfortably full tummy, he's happy for me to carry on with his stable. Just wondered if you agree with my understanding of his gestures or do you think there is something more sinister going on? I do when I have time, respect what I believe he's asking and leave the jobs until he's finished; but I don't want him to think I'm scared of him and that I'm allowing him to dominate me!

Jan 14, 2015
Good Article
by: Elaine

Hi Elaine, I believe your situation and answer is in this article from thehorse.com
(copy and paste in your browser)

You could also use their search engine to find many other really good articles on this subject and more.

Apr 06, 2015
Head Noding
by: Anonymous

My horse listens to slayer. Thats why he bobs his head. Particularly to the song Angel of death.

Jun 05, 2016
Bobbing head when eating
by: Anonymous

My horse whenever he eats different horse treats (not just one brand) bobs his head when he eats the treats and then he kinda spits out some parts of it but now its been happening more frequently and i've been concerned because before i ride i give him a treat and i let him drink some water and wait for a few minutes then ride. Then when im trotting/cantering he stops and starts sneezing/coughing (Like a combo of the two) then flecks of the treat he was previously eating flys from his mouth.Any thoughts?

Jun 05, 2016
symptoms of choking
by: Elaine Polny

I would have his teeth checked to see if he can grind properly and tell the vet about this situation. He sounds like he is choking on these treats, possibly something is stuck in his throat.

Nov 29, 2016
head bobbing NEW
by: Anonymous

Just got an ex- race horse about 14 years old. He bobs his head almost constantly while in his stall or out in the field. He only stops temporarily while eating . Have two other horses
that have never done this . No flies around the stalls except occasionally.

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